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A hot potato: Most people associate Waymo with 'self-driving' technology, but the company is dropping that term, and it's pointing a not-too-subtle finger at Tesla as part of the reason. Its vehicles will now be referred to as 'fully autonomous.'
There have long been arguments over whether vehicles should be classified as self-driving, mostly because the technology is closer to driver assistance features that require regular intervention from humans. Waymo believes the label gives consumers a false impression of cars' capabilities, making it misleading at best and dangerous at worst.
"It may seem like a small change, but it's an important one, because precision in language matters and could save lives," the company wrote. "We're hopeful that consistency will help differentiate the fully autonomous technology Waymo is developing from driver-assist technologies (sometimes erroneously referred to as 'self-driving' technologies) that require oversight from licensed human drivers for safe operation."
Yes— Waymo (@Waymo) November 10, 2020
While Waymo doesn't mention its rival specifically in the post, it appears that Tesla is the target here: "Unfortunately, we see that some automakers use the term 'self-driving' in an inaccurate way, giving consumers and the general public a false impression of the capabilities of driver assist (not fully autonomous) technology. That false impression can lead someone to unknowingly take risks (like taking their hands off the steering wheel) that could jeopardize not only their own safety but the safety of people around them."
Tesla does tell owners to keep their hands on the wheel when the company's Autopilot is enabled, but there have still been incidents, some fatal, in which the feature was engaged. Alphabet subsidiary Waymo's biggest objection is likely Tesla's Full Self-Driving (FSD) feature that rolled out to some users in beta last October.
Tesla repeated its "keep your hands on the wheel" rule for the feature, and FSD is supposed to be used on local, non-highway streets, but we've already seen a video of someone using it to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles with no human intervention.
There have been plenty of negative reviews of FSD, with some users complaining of Teslas going through red lights and almost rear-ending a parked car.
Musk recently said that FSD would "work at a safety level well above that of the average driver this year," so don't expect any name changes on its part.